Will an SEC Primary Take Away the Power of Blue State Republicans?

This morning, Nate Cohn of the New York Times Upshot tries to answer the question asked by many Tea Party leaning Republicans in southern states: Why does it seem that the GOP presidential candidate always ends up being a moderate, rather than a ‘true conservative?’ And, he finds some interesting data about the power of the GOP in the states won by President Obama:

But the blue-state Republicans still possess the delegates, voters and resources to decide the nomination. In 2012, there were more Romney voters in California than in Texas, and in Chicago’s Cook County than in West Virginia. Mr. Romney won three times as many voters in overwhelmingly Democratic New York City than in Republican-leaning Alaska.

Overall, 59 percent of Romney voters in the Republican primaries lived in the states carried by President Obama. Those states hold 50 percent of the delegates to the Republican National Convention, even though they contain just 19 percent of Republican senators. Just 11 percent of House Republicans hail from districts that voted for President Obama.

The article, which is well worth reading in its entirety, talks about the difficulties a conservative such as Ted Cruz or Mike Huckabee would have trying to win the presidential nomination, especially because Republican voters in states represented by and large by Democrats tend to be more moderate than those from the south.

It concludes by bringing up Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s effort to organize an SEC Primary, which would let the states with SEC schools, along with some others, vote on March 1st, 2016–the first date states other than the traditional four early primary states can have a primary election. The goal is to give the redder GOP states a bigger voice in selecting the party’s nominee.

In a Sunday AJC story by Greg Bluestein and Kristina Torres, Kemp says he’s aiming to have Georgia influence the choice of nominee.

“We’re on the national map, and that’s really what we wanted,” said Kemp, who next week will update his colleagues and brainstorm on how to move ahead with the plan while attending a national conference in Washington. “We wanted the candidates to know this was going to happen: The SEC primary is going to be a happening event. And our voters here will be able to participate in that process.”

Already, supporters say they are seeing ripple effects. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a potential GOP candidate who won Georgia’s 2008 primary, visited Georgia last week to meet with voters. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, another potential contender, met with Republican-leaning business leaders and donors last week in Atlanta. And state Republican officials expect a slew of presidential candidates at the party’s May convention in Athens.

Would an SEC primary succeed in nominating a more conservative candidate for president? Perhaps, but as the AJC story points out, that will depend on whether voters in the SEC Primary unify around a single candidate, or whether they split their votes among several candidates.


    • SallyForth says:

      At this point in 07, all we heard was Hillary for sure — just like we are hearing now. In 08 Howard Dean and the national party shafted her, DNC committee took chunks of her votes and gave them to Obama, counted voters of Florida and Michigan as fractional humans, worked crazy math to hand him the nomination. After the majority of primary voters voted Hillary, winning the primary didn’t matter.

      The same cartel is now pushing Elizabeth Warren as the anti-Hillary. 2016 becomes 2008 do-over. Hillary should just tell them to kiss her foot, not go through that again, and let the Dems go with the inexperience they so love. I’m just sayin…..

      • There’s some truth to that, but at the same time I don’t see Elizabeth Warren (who I don’t think will run) or any other challenger being able to compete with the black vote, which is ultimately what the SEC primary would be about for the Democrats. You combine Hillary’s base that got her 49.9% in 2008 with the lion’s share of getting the black vote back, and it’s hard for anyone to compete against her.

  1. Dave Bearse says:

    I think it would increase influence, but that that influence may not contribute to GOP success in a Presidential election, and may actually be detrimental to the GOP down-ballot in blue and purple states.

    • Michael Silver says:

      The blue state dominated process nominates Democrat-lite candidates who LOSE (Dole, McAmnesty, Romney, etc.) Republicans need to offer more than: “our Big Government isn’t as big as the Democrats”.

      The Republican National Committee is trying to fix the problem by providing additional delegates for states that ….. you know … vote for Republicans. But the system still provides more delegates to states that vote Democrat.

      Minnesota versus Mississippi is a good example. Minnesota hasn’t voted for a Republican President since 1972 and yet they get the same number of delegates as Mississippi who has consistently voted Republican since 1976. Where is the reward for supporting the parties nominee?

      • Michael Silver says:

        Here are a couple more examples how “the fix” is in to nominate Democrat-Lite candidates who LOSE.

        The largest delegate count goes to California (in 2012 172). CA hasn’t supported the Republican nominee since 1988.

        New York got 95 delegates in 2012 while Georgia got only 76. NY hasn’t supported the Republican nominee since 1984. Georgia has consistently supported the Republican nominee since 1996.

        • David C says:

          The fix appears to be math and population. There are more delegates from California than anywhere else because there are far more people in California than anywhere else. You know what state had the most Republican votes in 2012? California: 4.8 million Californians voted for Romney-270,000 more than in Texas, even though he lost the former state 60-37 and won the latter 57-41. 2.49 million Republicans backed Romney in New York, behind the aforementioned states plus PA, FL, and OH, and 420,000 more than in Georgia. Romney won 1.32 million votes in losing Minnesota, nearly twice as much as the 711,000 he gained in winning Mississippi.

          If anything, Republican delegate counts defer to the Red States relative to the electoral college. The 2012 Republican convention had 2,286 delegates. 172, or 7.5%, came from California, whose 55 electoral votes make up 10.2% of the Electoral College. New York’s 29 electoral votes are 5.3% of the Electoral College, but its 95 delegates are only 4.1% of the Republican convention.

          Red States are advantaged: Mississippi has less than a quarter as many votes in the Electoral College as New York, but its 40 delegates are nearly half as much and just as many as Minnesota, a state with approximately twice the population. Georgia’s 16 electoral votes are 2.9% of the electoral college, but its 76 delegates are 3.3% of a Republican convention. As Cohn points out: 50% of Republican delegates were chosen in states won by President Obama. 50% are chosen by Romney states, even through they only make up 38% of the Electoral College.

          • A good way for Republicans to never win the Presidency again would be for only the Mississippi’s of the world to decide the nominee. I would say the same thing about Democrats and Vermont.

          • Michael Silver says:

            I’m writing about the Republican’s nomination process, not the Electoral College. The Republicans, along with Democrats can and should adapt their process to nominate winners.

            The current process for Republicans doesn’t select winners. I don’t put GW Bush in the winner category because he barely squeaked by against a weak candidate.

            The party should reward states that vote and financially support the party’s candidate and reduce the influence of states that don’t vote for the party’s candidate.

            • David C says:

              The reason I went with the Electoral College is that, distorted as it is, it’s a handy proxy for relative populations among the states. And the current Republican primary system already does reward the states that vote for the party’s candidates (Fundraising comes substantially from CA, TX, FL, and NY: http://www.opensecrets.org/pres12/geog.php?cycle=2012&id=N00000286). The process already disproportionately favors the states that support Republican candidates by giving them more delegates then would be justified by population. Two of the three early states that winnow the field (Iowa and South Carolina) are also dominated by Conservatives. They just don’t exile ‘blue states’ completely.

  2. Dave Bearse says:

    On another note, I can understand SoS Kemp supporting such a proposal. Leading it, I don’t know.

  3. cody0919 says:

    In 1988 I believe the Democrats tried this and it did not work out for the more conservative candidate Al Gore. It essentially grouped all of the more conservative primaries together and split the vote between Gore and Jesse Jackson. Gore didn’t win enough to declare an outright victory and since they packed a lot of the South and other conservative primary states together, he didn’t have a second act. I think this could happen again – therefore allowing a more moderate candidate to win one or two big states (like Dukakis did) and then move on to later states.

    • David C says:

      I’d say the other problem was that a “southern primary” on the Democratic side then as now features a primary electorate with a large contingent of black voters. So it’s no surprise that say, in 1988 Jackson won the deep south or Obama won the deep south in 2008 despite ostensibly being the more ‘liberal’ candidate. A Democratic primary electorate picking a national election candidate doesn’t have to hew to the more centrist choices they go for when winning a statewide election with a conservative local electorate. On the Republican side, I don’t see how you have that problem, which is why you saw the Deep South split between the more conservative Gingrich and Santorum in 2012, or favor Huckabee over McCain in 2008.

  4. John Konop says:

    This is pretzel logic….the GOP cannot win without carrying blue to leaning blue state, which are growing via demographic changes……the answer get candidates, and promote issues that would alienate the people they need to win? Huh? Lol….I think we need drug testing for the GOP strategist who came up with this idea :). Btw I have a clue as to the problem….could it be that a few core issues from the base is hurting the GOP ie immigration, some social conservative issues….

  5. northside101 says:

    “Republicans need to offer more than “our big government is not as big as the Democrats.”

    Standard old “we lose because we are not conservative enough.” Really? Maybe nominating Rick Santorum in 2012, GOP would have won California? New York? Maryland? Pennsylvania? Maybe Rick Perry would have surprised people in New England?

    The hard, core cold math is the Electoral College these days favors the Democrats. Since 1992, 18 states with a combined 242 electoral votes have gone Democratic every time for president. No exceptions. Places like California (55 electoral votes), New York (29 electoral votes), and Illinois (20 electoral votes). Another 3 states—Iowa, New Hampshire and New Mexico—have voted D 5 of the last 6 elections. Add in those states, and Democrats already have 257 electoral votes. you only need 270 to win. Under that scenario, if the D nominee were to carry Democratic-trending Virginia (which backed Obama in 2008 and 2012 and has 2 Democratic senators and a Democratic governor), those 13 electoral votes would give the Democrat the 270 to win. Under that scenario, the R nominee could win the swing states of Colorado, Florida, Nevada and Ohio—and still not get elected.

    Doubtless if Jeb Bush were from North Dakota (3 electoral votes), he would not be mentioned as a nominee. But Florida has 29 electoral votes, and there isn’t a scenario where a Republican wins without that state. And throw in Ohio (18 electoral votes), which has voted for the presidential winner in every cycle since 1948 (except for 1960 when it went for Nixon).

    That is the sobering math Republicans need to look at in evaluating a candidate.

    As for whether an SEC primary would promote a more conservative nominee, it is worth noting that the most conservative candidate does not always win down here. In 1988, no one would have called Vice President Bush, a Connecticut-born Episcopalian, the most conservative candidate in the GOP primary field. Yet he swept the South on Super Tuesday that year—even Bible Belt states like Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina. TV preacher Pat Robertson did not even come close to winning his home state of Virginia. In 1992, the (Pat) Buchanan “brigades” fizzled out, and President Bush easily trounced Buchanan—almost 2-1 here in Georgia. True, Bush Jr, beat the more moderate McCain in 2000,, but even Bush had a lot of “establishment” support. Huckabee won Georgia in 2008, but the more moderate vote was split between McCain and Romney; it is unlikely Huckabee would have won the primary in a 1 on 1 match.

    But yes, we’ll have to see how many ways the vote is split up. A Bush or Christie hopes that the more conservative vote is split between Perry, Santorum, Cruz , Rubio and Huckabee, while the more conservative crowd wants more establishment figures running like Bush and Christie. Of course there is no runoff in presidential primaries.

    • Chamblee says:

      Meh, offset by the GOP lock, through redistricting, on Congress and State Legislatures.

      Yay democracy!

  6. It’s a dice roll, because the nomination could be sewn up by then, but I think Georgia would have a lot more sway voting alone or with one or two other states in mid April. At that point, I’d imagine there would be a battle going down between a more centrist and more conservative candidate. So you’d have the centrist trying to prove that he can get conservative support vs the conservative trying to deliver the knockout blow. Would be a lot of fun!

    Instead, if they have this SEC primary, it will just contribute again to knocking out some Pawlenty style candidate who would maybe be a good general election challenger but won’t have the resources to compete in so many states so early and the media will be looking to knock those people out.

    Just my thoughts.

  7. Harry says:

    Gov. Walker has a great chance to do very well in Georgia. Here’s what I wrote on another blog: The interior of the country is solidly conservative and has midwest values. That’s Walker. Many nonpartisan voters really like how he moved to rein in the government unions. We need this same initiative on the federal level.

      • Harry says:

        Not when they are making twice as much, with twice as much time off, as those who they work for. Public sector workers should not be allowed to have collective bargaining. They already have too many ways to influence those who set their compensation and benefits.

        • benevolus says:

          OK, that’s fine. But then whoever sits on the other side of the table should not be allowed to consult anyone either. Fair is fair.

            • benevolus says:

              Unlikely. I probably worded my response poorly.

              The gist is, an employer ( even if it’s a government) can employ lawyers, specialists, MBA’s, negotiators, consultants, interns, secretaries, and researchers to prepare and present their side. And you want the solid waste truck driver to show up alone?

              I don’t even know how it could be legal to prevent someone from hiring representation.

              • Harry says:

                I’m just saying the current public sector situation is not a level playing field. The unions are adequately represented but taxpayers are not. The result is that public “servants” salaries/benefits in DC are double as high as in the equivalent private sector.

                    • Will Durant says:

                      So working for the government is evil and we need to trash the Constitution. You aren’t a conservative Harry, you’re an anarchist.

                    • Harry says:

                      How do you come up with that assertion? I don’t hate government, but the public sector has become too large and ineffective and government workers are being grossly overcompensated in comparison with the private sector.

                    • benevolus says:

                      Well there’s an Atlanta corrections officer opening for $34,000. Maybe you should apply? That’s big money!

                    • benevolus says:

                      “Senior Assistant City Attorney” for $90,000. That’s pretty good money, but it seems well within private sector compensation.

                    • Lea Thrace says:

                      benevolus stop! You are ruining the illusion that gov workers are raking in thousands and thousands of dollars hand over fist. Dont ruin the fantasy!

                    • Harry says:

                      Senior corrections officer….what does a security guard make in the private sector? Half of $34K.

                      Senior assistant city attorney…what does a no-experience attorney out of Marshall Law School make in a private law firm? A lot less than 90K. And by the way, a senior assistant federal attorney makes a lot more than 90K. And let’s not forget all the extra benefits, 40 hour weeks, and extra vaca time off.

                    • benevolus says:

                      If a Senior Corrections Officer in the private sector is only making $17K/ year I think they need a union.

                    • Andrew C. Pope says:

                      Harry, the life of a federal attorney is not as cushy as you think it is. Entry level is GS-11, which has a base pay from $51,298 up to $66,688. If you’ve got a clerkship under your belt, you can probably come in at GS-12 ($61,486 – $79,936).

                      Sequestration cuts, hiring freezes, and budget issues have cut down on the number of available entry-level attorney positions. The demand for federal attorney jobs far exceeds supply. I had a friend that was recently selected for an entry-level attorney position, over a thousand people applied for this one job.

                      The type of people that are able to rise to the top of crowded applicant pools are the folks who, if they chose, could be making hefty first year associate salaries at big firms, somewhere north of $125,000 at big firms. Especially former law clerks, who also have the added incentive of clerkship bonuses to go along with fat first-year salaries.

                      But maybe you’ve got some private sector experience, you’d like to transition over to the federal government because you’re tired of 80 hour work weeks as a young associate in some sweatshop firm. Cool, you can come in at GS-13. You’d go from making $130-$135k to making $73-$95k. The only way you incentivize talented attorneys to leave and work for DOJ, SEC, DHS, or any other federal agency is by providing the benefits that private firms aren’t willing to: better family and sick leave policies, 40 hour weeks, getting to see your family, vacations, etc.

                      One last thing, this hypothetical “senior assistant federal attorney” may be making over $90k, but she’s ultimately going to max out her earnings at $132,122. Someone in the private sector with her experience and knowledge has probably made partner and is possibly making more in one year than the “senior assistant federal attorney” makes in a decade.

                      The same story is true for city and state attorneys, except city and state attorney salaries and benefits are worse than those on the federal side. I’m not even sure if working for a city attorney’s office qualifies you for student loan forgiveness after 10 years the way working for a federal agency does. It may, I’d have to check.

                      I guess my central point is to not act like government attorneys making $90,000 a year are somehow overpaid or that the benefits they receive are unnecessary. Government benefits are how you attract attorneys that have the same talent level as the white shoe associates they’ll be working with on SEC cases, criminal prosecutions by the DOJ, discussions about energy regulations, etc. If you want to cut those incentives and staff your government legal departments with some rejects from John Marshall and Mercer, be my guest.

                    • benevolus says:

                      Have you tried to corroborate that information? Cato has an agenda of course, and a quick perusal the the intertubes shows that there is contradictory data out there.

                      In any case, since 35% of federal workers are in the defense department, I suggest we start cutting there!

                    • Andrew C. Pope says:

                      A couple flaws I noticed, one being that the “private sector” sample includes minimum wage workers. Of course private sector salaries are going to compare poorly when you have a huge swath of low wage workers weighing one group down. When you compare salaries of workers in similar roles with similar experience and qualifications (like the lawyer example I discussed above) you’ll see that the private sector outpaces federal employees, not the other way around.

                      I don’t get why your panties are in a bunch, Harry. I’d rather the government have highly capable attorneys, accountants, scientists, economists, etc. If vacation and better work-life balance help sway them from more lucrative private sector careers, then I’m all for it. Again, I want smart attorneys at the DOJ, not some mouth breather from a third-tier diploma mill that should be out chasing ambulances for Ken Nugent.

                    • benevolus says:

                      Not interested.
                      But I would be interested to explore ways to balance union power vs. corporate/government power.

  8. Will Durant says:

    Just pull up one of the red/blue keyed maps of the electoral college results in 2008 and 2012 for evidence of why this is a bad idea. Forget the blue state Republicans and ask yourself if an SEC Primary would take away the power of Republicans. Period.

  9. Andrew C. Pope says:

    So the GOP lost in 2008 and 2012 in part because the primaries forced moderate candidates to supplicate the conservative wing of the party by tossing out some red meat that was then used against them in the general.

    Seriously, librul demon Barack Obama spanked two “moderate” opponents. Why do people think that nominee that is further from the center of the electorate is going to somehow stand a better chance? Especially against a candidate in Hilary Clinton who is closer to the center than Obama is/was.

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